Tossing Sins and Giving Thanks

There was a wee little fish there too, but can’t be seen in this photo

This week was Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year (actually one of the 4 Jewish new years, but that’s a different post). Traditionally in the afternoon of the first day Jews will go down to a body of flowing water and perform the Tashlich ceremony. This is one of those fascinating customs that (most likely) grew out of superstition and pagan beliefs but became adopted and clothed in religious ceremony over time. There are many very interesting and, in my opinion, satisfying explanations for why we throw bread, why it should be running water, why there should be fish, but basically that’s all it is: we throw bread crumbs into the flowing water, symbolically casting off our sins. If only it were that easy, right?

there go my sins, floating away in the form of stale sourdough bread πŸ™‚

Our congregation typically meets at one of the 2 parks in town, at the boat dock. This year that park was trashed by Ida and was still closed to the public by Rosh Hashanah. The congregational gathering was moved to a different town, different park, different water. Tashlich does not require a minyan – a specified number of participants – so I decided to walk down to the brook to do Tashlich. The brook is about 3 blocks from my house – and DOWN the hill thankfully.

With a little bit of storm garbage for poignancy

I grew up in this town and have seen many many changes. I used to walk down to the brook with a friend and we would go exploring. We could walk for blocks along the brook – ducking through the culverts under bridges, looking at the little fish, and in general having a good youthful time. Then more and more lots got developed, people got crankier and more possessive, and not only was access to the brook getting harder (my classmate Bobby’s family built their house on OUR access way) but the people who lived along the brook got hostile and nasty about kids walking on by. In short, it is much harder these days to get down to the brook to meander. There are still a few paths and the brook is usually only a matter of inches deep, not treacherous at all.

A typical pile of refuse from Ida

My good friends live in a house next to the brook. Either they or the previous owners – also friends of ours – sued Amtrak and NJ Transit because they owned the culverts and were NOT keeping them clear. That meant a heavy rain would back up the brook and flood the houses on both sides along the brook. The lawsuit was successful and the culverts ARE kept clear. They didn’t really help this storm, however. There was so much water that it was not necessarily a matter of the brook flooding. It was the river of rainwater flowing down the hill into the low lying houses. It was the underground streams so saturated that no more water could be absorbed. It was the rain pouring through windows and floors and walls into everyone’s basements. It was 30″+ of water on the FIRST floor of their house. That means not only do you lose your rugs, your furniture, your food (the refrigerator has less than 30″ clearance) but your electrical system is gone (water pouring through your outlets). Probably your plumbing is damaged severely as well, plus your hot water, furnace, laundry.

What it looks like when you need to empty your home

After Tashlich I walked about, unburdened for the moment by sins, but carrying a load of regret for all of my neighbors whose lives were left out on the curb, soggy, sodden messes. I’m very thankful that we had almost no water in our basement. Thankful that although my friends may have lost so much of their home and belongings, they are alive and well. The brook looks so peaceful and calm today. It’s so hard to imagine the raging merciless torrents of water of last week.

End of Grant, for those who know what that means

Butterflies!!!!!

PLURAL!!! There were TWO butterflies in the garden this afternoon. I was backing the car out when I saw a butterfly swooping about. I am that crazy that I pulled back into the driveway and grabbed my new phone so I could get a picture! PROOF! I love that my new phone allows me to access the camera without unlocking the phone. As I clicked away at the butterfly on the Mexican Sunflower Torch, another monarch flew by, heading for the garden that borders the street.

While the first butterfly was deep into Torch nectar, the 2nd butterfly was much more flittery πŸ™‚ Yes, that’s a word. It finally came to rest on the zinnia. Obviously the first butterfly sent the word out, however, and the 2nd butterfly came over to enjoy the Mexican Sunflower. TWO butterflies!!!! I’m so excited. About 2 weeks ago I saw a red spotted purple butterfly (I think) around the garage, and then the next day I saw a humming bird checking out the front porch hanging planters. I didn’t have a camera either time so you’ll have to take my word for it. πŸ™‚ But today – TWO butterflies!!! I even took a video so I could watch the wings fluttering. πŸ™‚ What a joyous way to start the new year! L’shana tovah u’metukah

Quality Matters

Ah, 2020, the year when we need to devise new ways to do traditional things. We have just completed the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are wonderful events and, like most holidays, a time when we get together with family, friends and community. Except it’s very difficult to fit large numbers of people together in limited space and observe social distancing. Our congregation had a “sacred space” committee that sent out emails, suggesting ways we could all achieve or create a “sacred space” for ourselves in order to observe the holiday. They suggested that people should NOT just sit in their usual video conferencing setup but that we should all dress up, change locations within our homes, and otherwise beautify or “dress up” the space. I discussed this with my sister and we agreed that setting up outside, on my deck, would be a wonderful way to create a sacred space – outside in nature. Of course for me, this year has been horrendous with the no-see-ums so I knew if we were outside, I needed to be INSIDE of screens.

I already had one pop-up canopy, but it did not have sides. I went searching on the internet (WAS there life and commerce before the internet?) for another popup but with screens, and a way to add screens to the one I had. What a range in prices and styles. I didn’t want to spend THAT much because I really didn’t see the need for TWO popup canopies in my life. I confess that I let price be the deciding factor when I finally found some 10’x10′ popup canopies with screened sides. The add-on screens and the screened popup arrived a week before they were needed. My sister and I spent an afternoon setting them up, aligning them, figuring out how to ‘join’ them and keep them steady. That was Tuesday and when we were done it looked GREAT! Thursday morning I woke up and went off to make sandwiches. While I was making sandwiches it began raining. It poured. I came home and the new popup had collapsed under the rain. I was very very dispirited. But come Saturday the sun rose, and like the itsy bitsy spider the tent went up again. This time with pool noodles to try to keep rain from bringing down it down.

The holidays were wonderful. We made a beautiful space in the screened area. We had friends join us for meals, and we could be socially distanced because of the large space. We had multiple laptops and large added monitors so we could livestream services and have our families video conference in to join us while they ran a livestream for the services. Hurray for multiple devices! No rain from Saturday September 12 through Tuesday September 29. Last night was a major storm – someone on a morning business video conference called it a mini-hurricane. It was so fierce that it woke me up around 3:30 am, which is extremely unusual given how hard of hearing I have become lately. I went downstairs and looked out. Sure enough, the new popup was splayed and bent across the deck. I guess pool noodles will only get you so far. But it’s okay. It did what I needed it to do. If in the future I want to be able to build and KEEP an extended screened area, I think I might invest a few more dollars and get something a bit more sturdy. It seems you do get what you pay for. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, PEACEFUL new year, filled with hope and good things. πŸ™‚

5772

It’s the new year – 5772. I’m glad to say goodbye to 5771. 5771 was not the worst year of my life. It’s probably not even in the list of the five top contenders for that dubious honor. But as years go, it wasn’t very good, either. From little annoyances like windows shattering during the dark depths of winter to the scorching heatwaves, earthquakes and flooding hurricanes and ceaseless rain of the summer (/me waves bye-bye to the basement) through the year-long economic issues to the true tragedy of death in the family, 5771 does not have many happy high points. It wasn’t all gloom and doom, of course. There were LOTS of joyous occasions, love and laughter and friends. Even so, I’m not going to miss 5771.

Here’s to 5772! I resolve to do all that I can to make it a year of change for the better. Yom Kippur is this weekend. It’s customary at this time to try to clear the slate with anyone I may have hurt or harmed in the past year. I perform this ritual with most of my close friends and family. But this year I’d like to reach out to all of you who are a major part of my life, even if we do not interact daily, or even regularly.

I apologize if I have hurt you by what I have done, or have failed to do, by what I have said, or what I have failed to say, in the last year. I promise to improve my ways and I ask your forgiveness as we enter this new year.

May you be sealed in the Book of Life!